She’s survived dangerous missions for the government, but can she survive life among the rich?
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About the Book
Dior or Die
by Laura E. Akers
Published 22 January 2022
Light Force Literary
Page Count: 436
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
She’s survived dangerous missions for the government, but can she survive life among the rich?
Davia Glenn is the first woman on a covert paramilitary team until a mission goes deadly wrong. She inherits a fortune, moves to a wealthy community, and soon discovers the crazy under all that money. On a terrorist’s hit list, Davia must navigate her new life while dodging assassins.
Torn between two men and two worlds, Davia must decide her future— but this time, she wears haute couture instead of camouflage and combat boots.
If you love the grit of Jack Reacher and the fun of Stephanie Plum, one-click Dior or Die today for your next addicting, suspenseful mystery read.
Four men shot at me with automatic rifles.
I sat in a chair blindfolded, arms bound behind me with duct tape, and a gag stuffed in my mouth. The relentless
gunfire battered my senses.
Control the mind-game, Davia.
Forcing my hands into tight balls, I leaned forward and arched my back, preparing to free myself. In response, a bullet cracked one of my chair’s legs, and I almost crashed to the ground.
This ordeal was a boys’ club welcome to the first woman assigned to the most elite covert paramilitary team in existence. Of course, the team wouldn’t greet me with candy and flowers, but this?
My face grew hot from suppressed fury as the rounds whizzed past unabated. I slowed my breathing. Four breaths in, four out.
Finally, there was silence.
The malignant perfume of gunfire burned my nostrils. I listened for the click of empty magazines dropped and replaced. Instead, booming laughter and the dull thud of men slapping each other’s backs echoed through the space.
“Let’s give Glenn some time to sit in her messed drawers.” It was
James Warden, my team’s leader. When we met this morning at our training base in Virginia, he radiated Apex Alpha. Now, I amended it to Apex Asshat.
“We can tell the colonel we didn’t hit the hostage,” said another.
After their voices drifted away, I renewed my efforts to break the bindings. Within minutes, I was loose. I spat the gag from my mouth and tore the blindfold from my eyes, temples throbbing. How long would it take my shattered hearing to return in full?
My location was a plywood shoot house with movable walls. Dummy targets riddled with bullet holes surrounded me, and spent brass casings blanketed the floor like a golden carpet. Crouching, I snuck to the door, flattened myself against the wall, and peeked out.
Another teammate, Savant, sat at a distant table under a canvas shade, headphones atop his mop of fair hair. Hunched over a laptop, he bopped in time to an unheard beat. Gunfire began at a nearby range.
The group had moved on.
Bending, I lifted the combat knife strapped to my right calf and noticed a bullet hole had pierced a cargo pocket. The round missed my leg by a fraction of an inch.
I was almost a victim of high-speed lead poisoning.
Jaw set, I crept forward and thrust the knife under Savant’s chin in case he wanted to continue the hazing. Complex surveillance images streamed across his laptop’s screen as heavy metal blared from the headphones I tugged off.
“Don’t move,” I hissed.
“Oh, hey, Davia.” He pointed toward the distant gunfire. “Have fun.”
He never looked up.
Dropping Savant’s headphones into his lap, I put my knife back in its sheath. At the weapons table, I selected a submachine gun.
Popping in filtered ear protection, I stalked out to the range. Let’s find the hyenas.
Four battle-hardened men turned in sync when I approached, their expressions ranging from surprised to annoyed at my unexpected appearance.
“Sorry, I’m late.” My voice was saccharine sweet, like I was tardy for a Sunday picnic.
“We wasn’t ’specting you at all,” said Hodge, our burly Texan medic. “You’re tougher than a one-eared alley cat.”
Most worked to hide smiles, but Warden scowled. “Careful with that gun,” he said. “I’ll show you how to use it in a sec.”
Show me? I trained for years on every weapon they used, and some they didn’t. Not pausing, I discharged all my ammo, disintegrating the bullseye of the target.
When I finished, teammate Ned tugged at his scruffy beard and said, “We should nickname you Bombshell, and not because you’re blonde.”
The men all laughed, except Warden.
* * *
FIREARMS PRACTICE CONCLUDED, we entered the primary building of the complex. Our boss, Colonel Streeter, kept an office in a nearby wing.
“Why isn’t Savant coming with us?” I asked Ned.
“He operates on a different plane than us mere mortals.” Besides his unkempt beard, Ned wore his brown hair in a hipster bun. Grooming rules did not apply to this unit.
A female aide who worked with Colonel Streeter beckoned to another team member, K. He put up a hand in acknowledgment. K resembled Idris Elba, but younger and buffer. They moved away down a side hall.
The rest of us turned into a room with a mat-lined floor. On one wall, racks held fighting sticks, knives of various sizes, and boxing gloves.
“Ned, you and H pair up. I’ll take on Bombshell,” Warden drawled, emphasis on the B. Ned and Hodge pulled on boxing gloves.
Warden handed me two twenty-eight-inch sticks, took two himself, and we faced off. At six-three, he had me by six inches.
It was Davia versus Goliath.
“Ready?” Warden’s full lips curled into a sneer.
“Ready to lay you out.”
He came at me and didn’t hold back, hitting with the power of a rhinoceros in a charge. Stepping fast to keep him from knocking me over, I blocked blow after blow. I pictured Batman bubbles over our heads: Bam! Pow! Krunch!
Warden made the men on the cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine look like featherweights. He was one hundred pounds heavier than me and sported gallon jug biceps. Our weapons were a mere blur until a searing thwack landed on my upper arm, and I cringed away.
“Give up?” Warden asked, driving me toward a corner.
“You. First.” I gasped, sucking wind.
Back up-Duck-Back up.
At the edge of the mat, our sticks clanged. Cornered, I did a quick roll and slammed one of my bars against the back of Warden’s knees.
He crashed to the floor.
A giant hand caught my right ankle and jerked.
I fell hard on my face.
Kicking free, I sprang up, but Warden did the same. Rivulets of sweat coursed from his close-cropped, dark hair and down his face. We circled each other, and I grinned as he also fought to catch his breath.
“Let’s go weaponless,” he grunted. “Fine.” We tossed our sticks aside.
We went at each other in an all-out grappling fight, working through an entire catalog of wrestling, martial arts, and street fighting tactics. Kyle Kavanagh, my South Dakota neighbor, and his myriad of deadly friends, had drilled me relentlessly through the years. I remembered their admonition: The bigger they are, the harder they— Warden latched onto my shoulder and tossed me to the ground.
His reinforced steel body landed on top of me, and the air blasted from my lungs.
Before he could trap my arms against the mats, I thrust a hand past his groin and wrapped my arm around his upper thigh. He went still for a split-second, hyper-aware I was a woman near his most prized and vulnerable possessions.
To make up for his momentary pause, he grabbed for my hair, but it was too short. He rolled over in an instant, clamped an arm around my chest, and spoke close to my ear. “You don’t belong here.”
“Says you.” I walloped him in the midsection with an elbow, leaped sideways, and broke away.
We jumped to our feet, circling again, checking for weaknesses.
My stamina hit the edge of empty. If I didn’t do something soon, this fight would be over. Warden lunged for me, and I caught his forearm. Using the last of my strength, I flipped him to the ground and trapped one of his knees with my legs.
“Call it quits?” I drove his joint to an unnatural angle, grinding my hips against his bulk.
Warden growled with frustration but didn’t give up. He bucked against me like a fly trapped in a spider’s web fighting for its life. After an age, he tapped out. I released him, falling back on the mat, drained. He untangled himself and got to his feet.
“Here.” He reached down to help me up. I took his hand, and he yanked me within inches of his face. Our eyes locked.
He held me much longer than necessary, then let go.
“Welcome to the team,” he said and walked away.
“How’d it go?” Kyle Kavanagh asked when I called from my quarters,
ice packs on my shoulders and one knee.
“About as we expected. But worse.”
“Worse than launching a nuclear bomb into a cave?” I pictured my friend’s sparkling blue eyes and smiled.
“Well, comparable,” I conceded. “Colonel Streeter introduced me and left. The second he was gone, the group crowded in and threw me to the ground. I was bound and dragged off for a target practice initiation.”
Kyle gave a short laugh. “Sounds about right. How’d you handle it?”
“I stayed calm in the chaos as you taught me.”
Kyle Kavanagh was a former Delta Force operator sidelined because he lost a leg in combat. When I was eleven, I delivered him a ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ cake from my mom, and the course of both our lives changed that day.
“Who’s in charge of your team?”
“A guy named James Warden.”
“Neanderthal?” Kyle guessed.
“Nah. More Cro-Magnon.”
“You boosted him that far up the evolutionary chain?”
“You don’t get to lead the finest team around if you’re not a hotrod. Having the first woman ever in his unit probably doesn’t sit well, especially after I beat him in unarmed combat.”
A lengthy silence on the other end made me wonder if the call had disconnected. Kyle finally said, “There’s something I didn’t tell you.”
He sounded hesitant. “What?”
“He signed off on it.”
My mouth fell open. “No way.”
“I got the info from a friend but promised I wouldn’t say anything. You beat out the other competitors and were approved by Captain
America there himself.”
“Huh. Could’ve fooled me.”
“You in person might have proven different than his expectations.
You look better than the mug shot in your file.”
We had discussed the effects a woman would have on an all-male, testosterone-fueled unit. The buzz cut helped minimize my femininity, but Kyle still teased me. “You can’t do much about those baby blues. Men will get lost in them.”
Was Warden’s hostility because I was new to the team or a woman —or both? Newbies got hassled, sometimes for years.
“And how did Mean Streets react to you?”
“Sam Streeter. That was his nickname before he moved up the ranks and became a colonel. He’s small in stature but has the energy of a Jack Russell terrier after a fox. He could drink most of us under the table and still kill you six ways from Sunday.”
“Huh. Well, he’s all official now. Polite, but direct.”
“Next time we cross paths, I’ll tweak him about getting old and sedate. What about the rest of the bunch?”
“They’re all different, but the same at their core, deadly superachievers.”
“Just like you, at your ripe old age of twenty-four, and don’t you forget it,” Kyle said, pride in his voice.
His praise triggered a memory.
I’m twelve, a sniper rifle propped on a stand in front of me. Kyle hadn’t allowed me around such a weapon before. A centered target on a stack of hay bales sat a distance away.
Kyle: Study the wind.
A soft breeze from the east rolled across the surrounding wheat fields and ruffled my hair. I estimated the effect it would have on the bullet’s trajectory.
Kyle: Here’s what I want you to do. First, exhale. Count one, two, and then squeeze the trigger. Continue the squeeze to the back, then release.
Shouldering into my weapon, I cautiously let out my breath and pulled the trigger in a long, slow movement.
My shot hit the center mark at 200 yards, and joy flooded through me. Later, 1000 yards.
A sudden emptiness tugged at me.
“How are my parents?” I asked. Kyle was one of their closest friends.
“Ate dinner with them tonight, so I’m stuffed.” The sound of him patting his belly carried through the phone.
Memories of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and homemade pie filled me with unexpected melancholy. I pictured my dad, seated at the head of our oak dining table. His upper forehead was lighter than the rest of his face from wearing a ball cap working long, hard days in the sun, tending to his crops. My mom would fret about whether she made enough food while Kyle regaled them with stories.
“I miss being home.” I longed to walk up the front steps, sit on the covered porch, and breathe in the smell of the countryside. How long since I was last there? A year?
“Maybe you’ll get a chance to take a break soon.”
“Doubtful since I just got here.”
“True. Tomorrow, I’m on the road to talk about suicide prevention at a veterans’ conference. It might be hard to reach me. Do you think you can handle the initiation?”
“I want you to take time to decide about this job you’ve worked so hard to get. Sometimes the reality isn’t what you expected.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Okay. Remember, the easy way is what?” “Always mined,” I finished.
We said farewell, and I lifted the ice off my knee, wincing. Duct tape residue stuck to my wrists, and I picked at it, replaying the day. What would come next?
Wait. Reframe that.
It didn’t matter what came next.
My mind gave the middle finger to pain, fatigue, and the games of little boys. No matter what gut-wrenching, excruciating challenges were on the horizon, I was ready.
* * *
THE DARK ROAD STRETCHED AHEAD. Two miles into my morning run, the region’s heat and mugginess tucked around me like an electric blanket set on high.
A presence behind me closed the distance between us fast. A white-toothed smile gleamed and was gone. Warden moved at the speed of a cheetah, shirtless in black shorts. The sun peeked over the horizon, illuminating his shining muscles like his own personal gaffer.
Couldn’t he have picked a different route? Was he determined to show me up?
I raced after him, squinting into the bright morning. At the fivemile mark, I slowed my pace and checked my watch. Under forty minutes. Fine. He could run faster.
One for him and one for me.
Following the looping road back, I settled into a light jog before breaking into a brisk walk. Closer to the compound, other team members nodded in greeting as they began their runs.
Cooled down and stretched, I entered the team’s co-ed locker room just as James Warden emerged from the showers—nude, head down, running a towel through his wet hair.
Holy crap and hallelujah!
I spun around, but not before noting that below his defined pecs and washboard abs, everything about him was in perfect proportion.
“Any hot water left?” I asked, wondering what to do. I thought I was prepared for all aspects of team life, but becoming inured to this reality would take time.
“Haven’t seen a man naked before?” Warden mocked.
Not like you.
There was no right way to answer, so I faced him. He leisurely dried his body and I pursed my lips, keeping my gaze neck-up.
“We’re doing shooting drills at 0800.” He reached for clothes from a nearby locker. Mine was three down from his, so there was nothing for it but to strip.
Warden’s dispassionate eyes raked over me.
“No tattoos?” he observed as he dressed. “I’ve got commitment issues. You?” Warden’s body was also unmarred by ink.
“I don’t need to improve on perfection.”
Fighting off an eye roll, I went to shower.
About the Author
I grew up in a small town in Southern California. My early writing career began when I created a neighborhood newspaper, won an American Legion essay award in 8th grade, and became editor of my high school newspaper.
At age 24, I became a prosecutor for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. I handled high-profile murder, rape, domestic violence, and gang cases. When I person I convicted made death threats, I trained in self-defense and weapons with a former black-ops agent. This led to the creation of my protagonist, Davia Glenn.
I’m a Distinguished Toastmaster and like to advocate for suicide prevention, elder abuse prevention, and fighting sex crimes against children.
This all sounds serious and achievement driven, but I also enjoy traveling, taking photos, and Korean dramas. I have two cats and a great guy.
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